So Games 1 and 2 have not gone according to plan, from the Blue Jackets’ perspective. In fact, pretty close to as far from plan as could be expected. Detroit has played like, well, Detroit. When Detroit does that, virtually every other team in the league becomes spectators, to one extent or another. The Jackets have fallen prey to that same syndrome during the first two games.
Having witnessed Game 2 in Detroit in person, where you can see the entire sheet at the same time, it is much easier to see what Detroit does, and how they do it so well. When executed consistently and flawlessly, as they have managed to do thus far, it promotes a cascading sequence of events that overwhelms the opponent’s game plan.
The ability of their defensemen to stand up the opposition at the blue line disrupts the offensive flow. Play gets pushed to the boards, where the whole team excels. Once they get possession, it is one or two controlled passes forward, through the neutral zone, and at least three wide coming into the offensive zone. The whole team has played together so long, that passes, at least on the top lines, always go to the point on the ice where the recipient is going to be, rather than where they are. These fine points create space and time for their offense. They move the puck from low to high better than virtually any other team, maintaining possession for extended periods. They either create opportunities for quick passes in front, or shots come in on net from the point, with the wings crashing the net as the puck is on its way.
When they do not score, they always have at least a token forecheck in place, even during a line change. This provides their forward time to set up shop in the neutral zone, and further impede the opposing offense. The extended possession by the Detroit offense forces the opposing forwards to spend most of their shifts in their own zone. Fatigued defenders commit hooking and holding penalties, which increases the possession advantage. The result? Huge advantages in shots and scoring opportunities and power play time.
This is precisely the trap our guys have fallen into over the first two games. In both games, we took control of the neutral zone early, but then power play opportunities arise, and Detroit assumes the neutral zone dominance, and the cycle begins. This is enhanced at home, where Detroit can use their depth and experience by choosing the matchups of lines.
We know how to defeat this system, but need to be at the top of our game to do it. Detroit has a plethora of players who have played together longer than the Jackets have been a franchise. We need to keep the puck deep, then establish our forecheck, which prevents those quick exits that support everything else Detroit does. If we can force the puck East and West, establish our own neutral zone presence, and be strong on the puck, the whole equation shifts. Detroit can be pressured into mistakes, as we have seen, but we need to take advantage of them when they happen.
- The Modin experiment has to end. Bringing Fred back at the beginning of the playoffs, at least on a top line, was a mistake. He has no presence, and has disrupted the chemistry we were starting to build. Better that his time is spent on the third or fourth line.
- Peca, Malhotra and Torres have been invisible on offense. Chimera has energy, but no finish. Same with Boll and Dorsett, who are game, but lack the skill necessary to change the equation. We need our senior guys to provide stability for the younger guys here.
- Voracek, Nash, Vermette, Umberger have been trying to do all the work on the offensive side. Williams has had flashes in spots, but we haven’t been able to put together a cohesive effort. Huselius has also been invisible, but looked better last game than the first one.
- Hejda and Methot have been taken to school so far. Hejda is not reacting well, and virtually all his mistakes have led to goals. Tyutin has been fair, and Klesla was strong in Game 1, not so much in Game 2. Russell has been good, as has Commodore, who has been in the unenviable position of having to cover for Hejda’s mistakes. Hence, he has taken more penalites that we should be seeing.
- Our young guys (and some of our older ones) are showing signs of panic — not making strong passes, dropping back in a prevent defense, clearing pucks along the walls without regard to who is waiting– incomplete passes in our own zone. Patience is the key — we need to show more urgency in getting to the puck, instead of showing the urgency once we have it.
We now have them coming to our house, with Hitch dictating the matchups and 7 years of pent-up frustrations ready to be released. We need to take this one shift at a time, get a win in Game 3, and then move on to Game 4. Sure, it is a huge mountain to climb, but we have talent, and need to start showing it. I know that 19,000+ will be on hand to root them on.